Ask the Trainer: Chase Drive
The Problem: How can I teach my dog not to chase people running by or on bikes? -Andy Infante
Dogs chase moving objects for many reasons; however all of the reasons are instinctual. Whether it is prey drive, hunting, herding, guarding/protection or even a defense out of fear…..the chase is initially triggered by the dog’s instinct. Couple that with how much fun and rewarding your dog has learned this behavior is and you find yourself competing with not only instinct, but a self-rewarding behavior. Based on the dog’s trigger for the chase, the rewards can vary between each dog and each instinct. Since I haven’t observed the dog’s behavior, it’s difficult for me to determine exactly why your particular dog is chasing the moving objects, however I have some tips for you to help teach him an alternate behavior.
Before expecting your dog to learn the desired (new) behavior with a biker speeding by, you must practice with him in a setting with little to no distraction. You’re going to start with the “Leave It” command in a controlled setting, such as inside your house. Start out by making it really easy, then slowly increase the level of difficulty. For example, have him ‘Leave’ a piece of dry kibble for a soft yummy treat. When he’s good at that, teach him to ‘leave’ the soft treat for a piece of cheese, and so on. As mentioned in a previous response when addressing a dog chasing the resident cat……this is worth repeating: When I teach Leave It, I never ever let the dog have the item I have asked them ‘Leave’. In other words, don’t have him ‘Leave’ the dry kibble on the floor, then turn around and say ‘Take it’. You want to instill that ‘Leave It’ means ‘Leave it’, don’t ever ‘Get It’. Always reward with something different, and better, than what you are asking the dog to ‘Leave’. You would slowly but surely work up to levels of increased difficulty by having him ‘Leave’ a rolling ball that will serve as a moving object, a piece of cheese you toss, someone walking by, and eventually work up to ‘Leaving’ the bikers and joggers.
When you are ready to begin working around bikers and joggers, it is important that you start out at the easiest level for him to succeed, as well as desensitize him to the bikers’ and joggers’ movement. You will need to recruit the help of a friend or family member for this. Have your dog on leash and have your recruit pass by at a faster pace than walking, but not a full jog. Continue to work that ‘Leave It’ command and reward heavily for the correct response. If your dog is having trouble giving the correct response, you’re moving to quickly for him – go back to an easier step in which he can be successful so you can reward. You’re not looking to keep having him fail so you can ‘correct’. Do the same thing with the bike, but start out with the person walking past you with the bike, not riding by at full speed. The two things that are going to set you and your dog up to succeed is starting with slow speeds of the joggers and bikers as well as setting distance away from the bikers and joggers. For example, before your dog can resist the urge to chase, and comply to your ‘Leave It’ command with a biker speeding by 3 feet away, he must be able to give the correct response 15 feet away and the biker slowly walking by. Find the threshold at which your dog can successfully comply with the ‘Leave It’ command then slowly have the joggers and bikers increase speed, and you slowly decrease the distance from the moving objects. Don’t increase speed and decrease distance at the same time. An example of this would be if the dog can comply with the Leave It command 15 feet away and the biker slowly riding by, move in to 13 feet, but keep the biker at the same speed. Then, go back to 15 feet away and have the biker slowly increase his speed and so forth. Don’t be tempted to increase difficulty at the level in which you think your dog should be progressing, but at the level your dog is progressing. And as with any training, don’t progress too quickly in a way that will set your dog up for failure.
If you have a young dog that has not practiced chasing for very long, you should see progress and results fairly quickly. If your dog has practiced the chasing behavior for quite some time, it will more than likely take a little more time and energy to extinguish the rehearsed behavior and implement the new behavior. Be consistent and patient and always set your dog up for success. The more he rehearses the desired behavior and is rewarded for it, the better he will get at it. Just remember, rehearsing behaviors and getting better at it work with any behavior…..so the more he rehearses the undesired behavior and is rewarded for it, the better he will get at that also. As mentioned above, the chase itself is rewarding, so even though you don’t personally reward it, if he completes the action, he is rewarded.
Please don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a Certified Positive Reinforcement Trainer if you find yourself needing assistance implementing these tips. Your investment will be well worth it for both you and your dog. Follow this advice from Dr. Ian Dunbar, a world renowned trainer, behaviorist, teacher, and who I like to refer to as the Grandfather of Positive Reinforcement Training: “When I’m training a dog I develop a relationship with that dog. He’s my buddy and I want to make training fun. Training a dog to me is on a par with learning to dance with my wife or teaching my son to ski. These are fun things we do together. If anyone even talks about dominating the dog or hurting him or fighting him or punishing him, don’t go there.”
Kristie Allen, CPDT
The Learning Canine, LLC